The Jewish Kid From New Jersey Who Became A Radical Islamist Yousef al-Khattab was born Jewish but became a Muslim and put extremist propaganda on the Web. On the eve of sentencing for terrorism charges, he tells NPR his actions were "stupid" and "wrong."
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The Jewish Kid From New Jersey Who Became A Radical Islamist

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The Jewish Kid From New Jersey Who Became A Radical Islamist

The Jewish Kid From New Jersey Who Became A Radical Islamist

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Our colleague Dina Temple-Raston recently had a conversation with an alleged terrorist. He's one of the founders of a group called Revolution Muslim, which we first reported on about four years ago. Rev Muslim, as it's known, is a radical Islamist group that operated openly in New York City. The group used the Internet to recruit and radicalize young Muslims here in the United States.

Later today, the co-founder of the group, who spoke with Dina, is scheduled to be sentenced on terrorism charges in Alexandria, Va.

YOUSEF MOHAMMED AL-KHATTAB: My name is Yousef Mohammed al-Khattab. I was born Jospeh Cohen.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: He was a Jewish kid from New Jersey, who converted to Islam in his 20s. And his travels in the Middle East radicalized him.

AL-KHATTAB: When I got involved with Revolution Muslim, I had come from overseas. I was in Palestine, and I became a Muslim in Palestine. I fell in to people that were more radical than I was.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Those more radical people were part of a pro al-Qaida, anti-American, anti-Semitic group called Revolution Muslim. Mitch Silber ran the New York Police Department's Terrorism Analysis Division. He says the group became a gateway for young Muslims seeking a violent form of Islam.

MITCH SILBER: And they became very proactive in the New York City area, both publicly - doing demonstrations on the streets of New York City - as well as online, having a pretty significant Internet component to their efforts.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We come to you today representing an organization known as Revolution Muslim, opening your eyes to that which you have been made blind to.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's a video from Revolution Muslim's old YouTube channel. It shows a demonstration by its members in New York after the 2009 shootings in Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 people dead.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It took place right here in the belly on the beast, the United States of America.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yousef al-Khattab is featured in the video, and the NYPD's Mitch Silber says al-Khattab wasn't just a bystander.

SILBER: He was one of the two leaders of the group. He was a chief propagandist, he was an organizer, he was a provocateur.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A provocateur who ushered in a new era of jihadi radicalization. It used to be that young Muslims traveled to terrorist training camps in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Yemen. Revolution Muslim reached them with provocative posts on the Web. And it worked. Jihad Jane, the Philadelphia woman arrested in 2009, was a Rev Muslim follower. Samir Khan, the North Carolina man who edited an al-Qaida magazine, visited the group's chatrooms. Zack Chesser, a Virginia man who blogged for Rev Muslim, was arrested boarding a flight to Somalia. He was traveling to join a group linked to al-Qaida.

Those followers are now dead or in prison. Soon, Yousef al-Khattab is expected to be behind bars, too. He's pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

AL-KHATTAB: I pleaded - I don't know the exact wording of it, but it was disseminating a threat on the Internet.

TEMPLE-RASTON: What he did was post a video of violence in the Gaza Strip and then encouraged Rev Muslim followers to seek out Jewish leaders in the U.S. and - in his words - deal with them directly in their homes. Then he posted a photo of a Jewish organization in Brooklyn, with directions on how to get there.

AL-KHATTAB: They interpreted me giving the message of Islam as being a threat towards the Jewish community, which it wasn't.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, if you actually give addresses and pictures of people who are in the Jewish community...

AL-KHATTAB: OK. Yeah. That's - now, I am not defending that. That was stupid and it was wrong, and I am paying the price for that now. Period.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Al-Khattab said now, his concern is that his prison sentence will raise a rallying cry in the very radical forums that he helped create. He says he doesn't want to be lionized as a religious warrior - a mujahedeen.

AL-KHATTAB: This was stupidity, and this is what happens when you hang out with the wrong people. And so it's my fault. I know when I go to jail and it's going to be, you see, oh, so (foreign language spoken) - you know, he's a mujahedeen. I am not a mujahedeen, I am a failure.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yousef al-Khattab faces as much as five years in prison. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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